The Corner

Economy & Business

What’s Broken, and What We’re Not Going to Fix

In response to Tucker Carlson’s Galvanizing Speech

A few points about Tucker Carlson’s viral speech, especially the bits about male wages:

1. In terms of how best to characterize what’s going on with wages, you should read the recent exchange NRO hosted between Scott Winship and Oren Cass. I think Winship makes the better case: When the data are analyzed properly — with the appropriate inflation adjustments and apples-to-apples comparisons over time — male wages have risen in general but stagnated at the bottom. That’s not great; it’s also not a decline.

2. It’s also not clear what, short of a government-managed economy, would force the market to value low-skilled men in particular more. Trade or immigration policy might make some difference on the margins, but the shifts in our economy in recent decades run far deeper than that. We’re not going to push women back out of the labor force, destroy all the technological advances that have made physical labor less remunerative, or prevent further automation going forward. Like both Cass and Winship I like the idea of subsidizing wages for low earners, which would partly address Carlson’s complaint, but it’s not like we’re going to subsidize pay for men but not women and thereby affect relative wages by gender.

3. Speaking of which, Carlson is right that women prize breadwinning in their mates, much the way that men prize beauty, and that this creates obvious problems when women start outearning men in at least some segments of society. Men’s own discomfort with being outearned is no doubt important too. Richard Reeves once pointed out that we could solve a lot of problems if low-skilled men would become homemakers; it’s a nice thought, but I am not sure that gender roles, malleable as they may be, are quite flexible enough for this to really take off.

4. Women can now manage their fertility, fully participate in the work force, and avail themselves of safety-net programs if they bear children while unmarried. All of these things make men less economically crucial to women’s lives, even aside from men’s own wage trends, and none of them are going to change more than marginally either.

We’re living in a different world now, in good ways and bad, and we can only make the best of it. There are great ideas on how to do that — fix marriage penalties and work disincentives in the safety net, help low earners and parents, reform the education system, etc. But there’s no path back to where we started.

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